I have just returned from my first session of plein air painting in years and years, and my first test of my new Plein Air Painting Kit which I only just put together.
My Plein Air Painting Kit
I'm entirely uncertain of what I'm doing here. What's been happening in my head, since shortly before I shut down my studio in Brooklyn, is I've been thinking of plants and landscapes more. I'm not sure why except maybe the way the figure drawing sessions finally failed to work out left a bad taste in my mouth. Or maybe I'm just tired of naked people. Whatever it is, I've found myself looking at vegetation and things out in the world. Trees and vines and flowers. I've found myself turning over in my head how I'd paint these things. And I've been thinking of getting outside and painting out there.
To that end I took some things I had lying around the house and put them together with the remains of my studio to make my Plein Air Painting Kit. The box I got from my Uncle Louis from his artistic phase. He gave it to me years ago along with a bunch of elderly tubes of Grumbacher paint and some sad brushes. I retubed the paint last year or so figuring on giving it my father for his artistic phase, but the phase ended before I got them to him, so I decided to use them myself. So I put those old paints and my current Gamblin paints in the box. I cut down a piece of paneling to fit the slots in the box lid and taped a sheet of Canson Canva-Paper to it. Theoretically I could transport the still-wet oil painting in the box, held in place by the slots so it doesn't touch anything else. The box also has a nasty wooden palette -- Uncle Louis never cleaned it -- so I attached a pad of Canson palette paper to that and set it so that could lie over the paints in the box.
I worked out that I could clamp the box to a portable steel easel I've had forever and use it as a painting easel. Medium is in an old medicine bottle and OMS is in a Nalgene squirt bottle I had lying around. All this I set up outside my house with my quarter-ton chair, a folding chair capable of holding my great weight (most of those cheap portable chairs are a hundred pounds short of holding me safely).
The results were...well, I'm not too thrilled. But this was more a proof of concept, a test run. To see how well it works.
The biggest problem I had was composing the painting. I'd had an idea but somehow when I started blocking things in it didn't work out. Instead of being a sketch of "Retaining Wall with Hostas" (which are on top of the wall) it ended up as "Retaining Wall with Budding Chrysanthemums" (which are at the bottom of the wall). I'm going to need some practice, obviously, composing in plein air.
The second biggest problem was discovering that an enormous number of diesel vehicles, to say nothing of all the noisy muffler-free cars and motorcycles, goes down my street. I thought it was pretty quiet here, but clearly that's because I was never paying close attention.
Third biggest problem: Pedestrians, including people I know from the neighborhood. I need to paint some place far away next time.
More seriously: I found the whole thing very challenging. Color: How the heck do I get that shade of pinky russet? Paint: How did I get it on my elbow? Sitting: quarter-ton chair not so good for sitting forward and working. Legs fell asleep. I should maybe try standing but I wanted a different angle.
And finally, I need to make up my mind about what kind of painting I want to do. I keep pushing more towards realism, which I'm not really capable of, but for some reason when I try to be more like Van Gogh, more Neo-Impressionist, I feel as if I'm faking and my painting pulls back towards realism.
I guess we'll see how it goes next time.